Friday, December 23, 2011

The Top 20 Films of 2011

PREFACE: This is not a complete list. At the time of its publication, I haven’t seen a great deal of films I wish I had seen, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or A Separation. This is, however, the culmination of seeing over 70 films from this year. It should be viewed as a time capsule of taste on this particular day at this particular moment. Were I given another week to mull this over or see more films, it might change drastically. I’m happy with how it looks, and so for the sake of my own sanity will let it stand in this form.

I’ve become more aware, having seen so many films, of my own biases. There are, I think, too many American films on this list, but that simply comes from my position as an American who studies chiefly American films. That’s not to detract from, for instance, The Kid With a Bike, which is marvelous in its own ways. My own biases also allow for choices that are deeply personal, and might make you balk unless you know the kinds of films I love. That’s one reason I’m happy with this list as it is.

I’m often asked if my lists are “Best” lists or “Favorite” lists. Well, they’re both. It’s a confetti of two sides modulated by a very precise equation. To put it another way, these are films that mean something to me. Some have emotional meanings, others intellectual. Some dazzle, some confound. Yet they are all on this list because they meant something. Sure, you can bicker about placement all you want. I invite you to. Debate these choices. They are what they are, but I feel they adequately represent the highs of my cinematic memory in 2011.

On 2011: Falling in love again

In many ways, 2011 was the most tumultuous year of my life. I wrote a thesis, graduated college, moved to Los Angeles, started working on a Masters, got my writing accepted into an anthology, left my friends and family on one coast, and started working on building a new one on a brand-new coast.

It was eventful. And in between all those events, I saw over 70 movies from 2011. Yep, 70+. How did I do it? I have no idea. I mostly chalk it up to where I live now, because I was able to see many movies that I'd have to wait a year to see either in their slow expansion across the U.S. or eventual DVD release. Take AFI Fest, for example. At the Film Institute's free, week-long festival in the first week of November I saw 11 movies in one week -- including two world premieres, a North American premiere, and almost all great movies. Take also UCLA's nearly non-stop lineup of sneak preview or L.A. premiere screenings, and I was actually able to keep up with the conversations critics are/were having about the "best of the year" for the first time in, well, ever.

I realize this may sound childish, or nostalgic, or hopelessly sentimental, but in many ways 2011 was about falling back in love with movies for me. Not in a sense of the medium itself, but of how I was able to experience it. I've always seen as many movies as I can (afford) in a theater, but with so many opportunities to either see things for free, or see them as soon as they're released, I became a kid in a candy store in Los Angeles. I'd wager that since moving there in August, I've seen at least one movie in a theater every week (oftentimes more, just because of the accessibility). It's not that my life is just that empty, it's that I've chosen to make time to do that. Even apart from seeing these independent or foreign movies, I've been able to see, for instance, restorations of "Gone With the Wind" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on the big screen.

And yet while the screen is certainly thrilling, and certainly the way we're supposed to be watching film (although I'll gladly take Netflix on a 15-inch laptop screen in a heartbeat), there is a kind of romantic allure that surrounds it now. Because our screens are so multiple, our experience of the cinema so vast and so different, the idea of people actually congregating to watch something in a fixed time frame seems increasingly outdated. If anything, L.A. has allowed me to recapture the grandeur of watching movies with people. That's something I had forgotten about, in my rather cynical "wait for DVD or see it during the cheapest matinee" philosophy of the last four years.

And while I don't mean this as a crack on my time as a film critic, when I was working for "The Daily Gamecock" I often had to watch what was coming out, versus what I might want to see. So while I hear many people rightfully claiming how bored they were by Hollywood's output this year, I can't share their feelings. I've been nothing but exhilarated by movies in 2011.

It might be hard for Billy Beane to not be romantic about baseball, but it's hard for me to not be romantic about the movies.

And in that spirit, 2011 was the perfect year for me to have this nostalgic rediscovery of "the cinema." So many movies were about remembering the past. From "Midnight in Paris," which puts the perils of nostalgia front and center, to "The Artist" -- a gimmicky reconstruction of silent-era aesthetics -- the movies everyone talks about this year are almost explicitly about memory or nostalgia. Apart from those two examples, just think of "The Tree of Life," "Hugo," "Beginners," "X-men: First Class," "Captain America," "The Muppets," "Super 8," "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "The Descendants," "J. Edgar," "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," "Dirty Girl," "The Adventures of Tintin" -- these are all, to some degree, either about the past, about memory, or how we remember the past.

Not only that, some of these are movies about movies. "The Artist" -- silent movies. "Hugo" -- the birth of movies. "The Muppets" -- the muppet movies/TV show. "Rango" -- Westerns."Super 8" -- Spielberg.

And to get academic for a moment. It seems that as the academic community more and more talks about how mediated history represents a remembered history, or perpetuates the ideas that get remembered, so too do the media themselves start explicating their devices as specifically memory-geared.

 In many ways, this was the hardest year ever to assemble a Top 10 list. So I did a Top 20, just to make room for some more films I really loved. Not only did I see so many movies, but I had so many different reactions. How best to measure the deep love for some things versus the intellectual stimulation of others? As always, it's a balancing act, and one that only speaks to how I feel on this given day. It's a time capsule. Stay tuned.

Sealed in ice - 'Dragon Tattoo' review

It's hard to imagine a better adaptation of Stieg Larsson's international best-seller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo existing (and that most certainly includes the well-acted but sloppily consolidated Swedish version).

It's hard to imagine any other director than David Fincher possibly tackling the material. While it might lack the raw shock and awe of his absolute best, that has more to do with my knowing the novel than it does any of the beautifully cold sequences he strings together in the most breakneck 160 minutes of the year. Dragon Tattoo fits Fincher like a glove, and its basic plot might as well be a "greatest hits" sampling of his best movies: a serial killer replete with Biblical allusions? Sounds like Se7en to me. A gigantic waterfall of information as investigative reporters try to piece together the events of old murders? Seems a lot like Zodiac. Tech-savvy outcasts bending the Internet to their will? Shades of The Social Network. There's even a sense that Jodie Foster's mom-turned-badass in Panic Room is a banal precursor to the rage he finds in the iconic Lisbeth Salander.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

'Shame' and the aesthetic of suppression

Director Steve McQueen's "Shame" is not a movie to enjoy.

Hell, it's not even a movie to really like.

But beneath its finely honed superficial pleasures, between the edits, and underneath all the empty stares of its deadlocked characters, "Shame" is a provocative, devastating journey into the bowels of one man's personal hell. In Michael Fassbender, McQueen has undoubtedly found some sort of muse, an actor he works so harmoniously with, and one who's willing to push himself as deep as he can get (all the puns about "laying himself bare" notwithstanding). Together, the two have made a movie about addiction that offers only the slightest and most oblique chances of getting under its surface and hoping for any kind of personal redemption. It may not even be so much about addiction as it is about the almost self-flagellating shame its protagonist feels, and his battle to feel any kind of release from that dark cloud.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Past imperfect -- 'The Artist' and cinema nostalgia

The way critics are writing about The Artist, you would expect it to be the second coming of Charles Chaplin, F.W. Murnau, and Douglas Fairbanks. It's not. And what's worse, the way critics are writing about this film is so completely hyperbolic, so utterly selective, so clouded by grand rosy nostalgia that it's frankly baffling. You'd think these people were drunk off their asses when they watched this movie.

Maybe that's a little harsh. But The Artist is embroiled in a very nostalgic, very basic history of Hollywood from 1927-1933. Just as lead actor Jean Dujardin looks remarkably like Gene Kelly's silent screen star from Singin' in the Rain, so too does French director Michel Hazanavicius's film fall back into the commonly accepted mythologies that 1952 film purports about Hollywood. It never challenges our conception of Hollywood. It shamelessly endorses them. Which is fine for the light entertainment it is, but more problematic when you pair the film against the discourse surrounding it.

Fears as chamber plays

"A Dangerous Method" is, from my vantage point, getting very unfairly maligned. If you love David Cronenberg, you should like this movie. If you don't, you don't like Cronenberg for the right reasons. Psychology has always been a very strong part of his films, especially when it comes to how we interpret sex and violence (and, of course, how those two come together). In a lot of ways, it makes perfect sense for him to step back into the discourse of psychology and investigate a rift in its theory and practice.

While perhaps a tad "stage-y" (it's adapted from a play by Christopher Hampton), Cronenberg finds some great cinematic ways to shoot scenes: deep focus and mirrors get shining moments. That, and the performances are simply wonderful. Keira Knightley is like a bat out of hell; don't let anyone tell you otherwise. She's over-the-top, wild, and unchained. It's rare to find a performance this fearless because so often we expect our actors to be quiet, reserved, realistic. Knightley is playing a hysterical nymphomaniac. She acts accordingly.

Equally impressive is Viggo Mortensen, whose in-depth research into Freud pays off. He's gruff, disarming, and completely holds your attention when he monologues about his field. Michael Fassbender continues is stratospheric rise as Jung. While most of the film is these three characters (with a brief appearance by Vincent Cassel) sitting and talking, or having masochistic sex, it's a wholly engrossing intellectual outing. It looks like a typical period drama, but plays like a wholly unique film.

There have been lots of reviews and comments I've seen dismissing the film as boring, verbose, and disjointed, but it's exactly the elliptical and lofty qualities in it that I find very attractive. Psychotherapy helps erect and maintain cultural conceptions of gender and sexual behavior, "A Dangerous Method" suggests, and its deepest rewards come from applying its discussions on-screen to what happens to the characters between the scenes.


"Margin Call" is not a film on a lot of radars. It was made cheaply and quickly, but it rattles with a kind of precision and assurance rarely found in productions that cost five times as much. Recounting the first 24-hours of the 2008 Wall St. meltdown through the eyes of an up-all-night session at a single firm as they try to figure out how to survive the impending financial devastation, it's also largely a film of talking. Characters talk about money, about risks, about life, and dreams, and failures. As time goes on, they start to look sweaty and grimy, and it's very clear none of these characters are good, but few are bad. They make decisions that look awful, but they justify it as a no-way-out scenario.

Among the stellar ensemble, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Stanley Tucci stand tall for different reasons. They carry every moment they're in, and it's almost like watching an effortless master class at work. The writing is tight, and the acting sizzles.

The film is also remarkably well-shot. The offices are densely packaged, the lighting appropriately captures a kind of gorgeous blue nighttime hue, and yet there's lots of darkness surround this little world. It could easily work as a play, but the lighting in the close-ups and the editing around the boardroom tables make it come cinematically alive. Writer/director J.C. Chandor clearly has a passion for capturing human moments amidst a broader economic and political blanket (which is not to say the film is ideologically skewed--it is comfortably apolitical for much of the time), and finds plenty of ways to show off his considerable economic talents.

"Margin Call" is a quiet film, where only a raised voice accounts for the biggest action. Yet it feels so deeply realized, so impeccably staged -- in a word, tight.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Where dreams are made

"Hugo" is a rare and wonderful thing -- an openly sentimental love letter, a deeply personal film, and a striking experiment all rolled into a package that feels more like a gift than a highly calibrated exercise. In making one from the heart, Martin Scorsese has defied the odds and made one of the most beautiful films of the year.

If you have any kind of sentimentality for the movies, if the child inside you seeks to rediscover the magic of the screen -- see "Hugo" now.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reconciling ourselves -- 'The Descendants' review

"In a couple of days, it'll all be over."

It's not until relatively late in Alexander Payne's fifth feature, "The Descendants," that George Clooney says this line almost casually and nonchalantly, but despite his outward tone it carries so much weight and heartbreak. It's just one of many deft, blink-and-you'll-miss-it exchanges of throwaway sentences, grief-stricken faces, and warm humor embedded in Payne's tale of a family trying to pull itself out of a disaster.

To call it an intimate family drama of comedic highs and tearful lows would undermine the much larger project of Payne's film: This is a small epic of chronology about privilege and reconciliation, the interpretation of how families transmit values and connect to each other.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A thirst for adventure -- 'Adventures of Tintin' review


When last we left Steven Spielberg, he had just finished what (for me, at least) was one of the most insipid, uninspired action films imaginable: An "Indiana Jones" follow-up with little in the way of spark and sheer love for adventure, and lots in the way of cheesy set pieces, horrible CGI, and ridiculously inert narrative. Maybe it was enough for Spielberg to realize that he was simply burned out on his own filmmaking. "Indy IV" was bloated enough to make even the most ardent follower of the director balk.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Something to do with death -- "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"


Its title isn't just a fairy tale construct; "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" derives its namesake from the films of Sergio Leone ("Once Upon a Time in the West" and "Once Upon a Time in America") (not Robert Rodriguez), whose later works gradually became more and more fascinated with the operations of myth-making as it relates to the construction of a national identity and national perception, always making these arguments in a particularly generic context. Conveniently, that's where I also derive the title of my blog.

Wedding crashers -- 'Melancholia' review

And you thought it was bad having Owen Wilson and Vince Vaugn turn up at your wedding. Try having a whole planet ruin the show. Lars von Trier's apocalyptic drama of dysfunction, "Melancholia," is one of the most poetic, harrowing, and pessimistic films of the year, as one might expect with an even fleeting knowledge of von Trier's career. Those who admire him because of, or in spite of, his enfant terible attitude toward culture and the cultural industry that sustains him, will feel a familiar sense of oppression in "Melancholia" squarely channeled through feminine protagonists.

Similar to 2009's "Antichrist," the style of the film weaves in and out of his naturalistic, handheld style that favors lots of quick zooms, bouncy close-ups, and some extended shots of characters grappling with depression and despair; as well as a hyper-stylized slow motion technique that performs just the opposite function, letting us salvage a sense of beautiful composition in the face of the ugliness of the content.

Monday, November 7, 2011

World on a 'Haywire'


The thing about Steven Soderbergh is that I truly believe he's a "filmmaker's filmmaker." He's almost impossible to pin down, in that he's tackled multiple genres, multiple styles of filmmaking, and vastly different budgets, all while retaining (in fact, increasing) his credibility. He does all this while promoting a basic love for the craft. He makes movies that are enjoyable (the "Ocean's" films, "The Informant!") just as often as he makes movies that are experimental and very personal ("The Girlfriend Experience" or "Schizopolis"). They're all unique films, yet they all bear a mark distinctly his own.

So it is with great pleasure that I can reveal a good two and a half months before you're able to see it that "Haywire" is everything you could hope it to be, if you're one of those people who just wants to watch a great action movie without the frills. This is tight, controlled filmmaking that makes the genre come alive.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hanging in a trance - "Faust"


I don't even know if I particularly like "Faust," but qualifying a movie like this based on personal enjoyment seems somewhat counterintuitive to the kind of work it's doing to sustain an immersive and very particular mood. Already the winner of the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, Alexander Sokurov's film is difficult, occasionally maddening, emotionally empty, and strangely beautiful. It's also one of the best adaptations I've seen in quite some time, and deserves to be taken very, very seriously.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Of power and suppression -- "J. Edgar"



How do we present history? How do we even sit down and begin to recount our own personal lives, let alone connect ourselves to the broader tapestry surrounding us? This is a core question of "J. Edgar," one that is alternately summoned to the fore and relegated to the background. For a historical drama interpreting the life of one of 20th century America's most complicated figures, it is also a core dilemma, torn at the core between the intellectualizing of the screenwriter and the polished traditionalism of the director.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tattered souls -- 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

To begin any kind of discussion of "Martha Marcy May Marlene," one has to start at the end. Don't worry, there are no spoilers here. I only mean to suggest that the full force of the film, its true meaning, and its darkest implications, are only visible in its final cut to black. That alone is rare for a film, and in "Martha" it is at the least claustrophobic and the most horrific.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Et tu, Gosling?

The first question that probably comes to mind after Ides of March: Is there anything Ryan Gosling CAN'T do? In three major roles this year, he's been a comedic supporting player, a stoic action hero, and now a politically-charged anti-hero negotiating the shadowy labyrinth of election politics. Not only has he shown his diversity, he's batting a thousand, showing an intensity to character development and subtlety unlike anyone in his generation.

The second question might be, what does George Clooney actually accomplish with this film? Stepping back into the director/co-producer/co-writer/supporting actor chair that he used so well in his other politically-minded (but more historically-directed) film, Good Night, and Good Luck, he's now trying to feel more immediate, more acidic, and more politically relevant with a jab at the cynicism of the political landscape. And while The Ides of March certainly has moments of cold devastation and frosty bleakness, it's hardly the whopping indictment of the system its creators seem to envision it as.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Swinging for the bleachers

First off, let's get one thing straight: Moneyball is not "The Social Network of baseball movies." Yes, they're both penned by Aaron Sorkin (though he shares a screenplay credit with Steven Zaillian here), and they'd both rather keep the action confined to the development of ideas. But that's about where it ends. The calculated coldness of David Fincher's film is nowhere to be found, and Bennett Miller gives Moneyball such an earnest, gruff quality that it sneakily builds into a roaring film that may very well rank among the best baseball films ever made. It certainly isn't like any of them.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"A Real Human Being, and A Real Hero"

The disassociated, loner hero is a trope familiar to a wide array of historical periods, genres, and nationalities across cinema. James Dean in his red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause, Jean-Paul Belmondo's disconnected whirl through Paris in Breathless, Marlon Brando's struggle to establish his conscience in On the Waterfront, the minimalist assassin of Melville's Le Samourai -- these lonely men are just a few who awake our own sense of humanity through their recognition of their own failings.

In an American cinema of heroes gifted supernatural or highly expensive means of expelling the city of its woes and restoring a romanticized status quo to the world, "Drive" isn't just a breath of fresh air -- it's a slap in the face. Not only is it gorgeously filmed and meticulously crafted, it is at once full of despair, romance, and existential longing. It has the power to feel devastating and transcendental, excessive and minimalist.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"The Black Dahlia" LiveCommentary

Monday, September 12, 2011

"No touching!" - "Contagion" review

The horror genre has a deep history of masking and allegorizing its biggest fears. For instance, mass xenophobia and worries of foreign influence get combined into "Dracula," a character driven (at least in Tod Browning's 1931 incarnation) by his foreignness and his need to suck the life out of rich white people. Or, take zombie movies: fears of the apocalypse and the fragility of humanity's existence get converted into the undead -- mankind exacting revenge on itself for its own transgressions.

In fact, Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion" has some images that might feel culled from Danny Boyle's newly seminal "28 Days Later" -- deserted airports, trash flowing into the streets, food ripped from the shelves of stores. But this isn't some kind of deranged fantasy; the terror in Mr. Soderbergh's film is all too real, and the paranoia all too enveloping. It's a globe-trotting, fast-paced affair where the end of humanity threatens not from slam-bang sequences of iconographic destruction, but in hushed conversations between medical professionals and infected patients desperately trying to literally save human existence.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Starring Los Angeles, as "Los Angeles"

That night back in April where I decided to go to UCLA already seems like a distant memory (and yes, I still have yet to sit in a classroom. It's been an eventful couple months). But I had decided where to, in the words of a certain nefarious athlete, "take my talents" for graduate school, and so in a celebration I watched Thom Anderson's brilliant film essay "Los Angeles Plays Itself" on YouTube. It rocked my world, and in his deliberate, nearly-three hours of questioning how Los Angeles manifests itself on film and how its true character coolly eludes adequate representation, it actually provided me just one more in a very long list of reasons to go to Los Angeles and study.

Sunday night, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica hosted a screening of Anderson's film, which has yet to receive a DVD release (though he hinted that one may be in the works). The director/scholar was there to talk about his work at the end of the film for what felt like a good 75 minutes, with a crowd who was eager to explore with him his process, what he loves about the city, and the implications of the mythical character of Los Angeles.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"What I know about is Texas."

"The world is full of complainers. The fact is, nothing comes with a guarantee. Now, I don't care if you're the Pope of Rome, President of the United States, or Man of the Year -- something can always go wrong. Go ahead, y'know, complain. Tell your problems to your neighbor. Ask for help, and watch him fly. Now, in Russia they've got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else. That's the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas. And down here, you're on your own."

So begins "Blood Simple," the Coens' first film. With its deliberate shots of a vacant Texas landscape, and its dry, thick voice reciting the words with a deep forlornness, it might as well be the opening of "No Country for Old Men." And while "Blood Simple" may be eclipsed by their later (and, well, better) work, it still lays the foundations for their complicated plots of dumb characters doing dumb things and meeting violence along the way.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The End of Innocence: Gus Van Sant in the Millennium

This article contains spoilers for "Gerry," "Elephant," "Last Days" and "Paranoid Park"

In the 2000s, Gus Van Sant retreated into a very minimalist, very independent cinema after poking his head into the mainstream for several years (most notably in his Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting," least notably in his sick joke of a remake of "Psycho"). These films -- "Gerry" (2002), "Elephant" (2003), "Last Days" (2005) and "Paranoid Park" (2007) -- created a space for Van Sant to rethink his cinema. Indeed, they paved the way for "Milk," where many of his quirks seem to have new, effervescent life.

But what I'm interested in is not how one influences the other, but rather a theme that seems particularly evident and tortured within each of these works (even, in many ways, "Milk") -- the tragedy of adolescence. All these films feature very young protagonists, from the high schoolers of "Elephant" to the mid-20s rock God of "Last Days," and all of them turn on death. In "Gerry," one protagonist dies because of the duo's naivete and carelessness in venturing into the desert on a whim. The adventurous impulses of youth are struck apart by mother nature's displeasure. In "Last Days," the rocker who's unable to connect to the world outside his home collapses in a drug induced stupor and his soul ascends heavenward. Both of these events, which serve as the climax to these two films, are filmed in very matter-of-fact fashion, with distanced camera positions and minimal editing. Van Sant conjures a representation of death, but does not manipulate us into feeling one way or the other about it.

Six for Fall

In the spirit of not being able to do a fall movie preview for The Daily Gamecock this year, I'm taking to the blog and laying down the six movies I'm most excited about, from now up to Thanksgiving.

Contagion (9/9)

Steven Soderbergh brings together a massive A-list cast for a globe-spanning pandemic thriller. Since he continues to be one of the only directors who uses each film as a vivacious new experiment, and one of the only who can gently move between being very mainstream and very independent, he could do some fascinating things with this one. Could it be the "Traffic" of the global apocalypse genre?

Drive (9/16)

I'd watch Ryan Gosling do just about anything. I think if he videotaped himself at Subway and put it on YouTube I'd marvel at it. He's just got that much charisma, that much intensity as an actor. So of course I'll watch him play a Hollywood stunt driver-turned-getaway driver. The trailer is pretty mainstream, but this won Best Director at Cannes, and the cinematography looks wonderful.

The Ides of March (10/7)

Speaking of Ryan Gosling, here he is again. Teamed up with George Clooney as director and star, and Grant Heslov in the co-writing/co-producing roles for a political campaign thriller, this one is oozing with not just Oscar-bait potential, but potential to open the very deep wounds of our divided political discourse. I smell another high-caliber outing with a similar feel as "Good Night, and Good Luck."

Red State (10/21)

Kevin Smith doing a horror movie? Say what? Kevin Smith doing a horror movie about crazy, murderous uber-Christians on what looks like a hyper-minimal budget? Holy self-recreation, Batman! Ever since I heard the festival rumblings and saw the trailer, I've been dying to see this film. It looks like a "Texas Chainsaw"-esque cult classic.

Melancholia (11/11)

It's pretty well known that I'm an ardent admirer of Lars von Trier, and think he's kind of a genius. I don't care about the controversial things he says or the ways he likes to poke people in interviews, his cinema stands on its own as visceral, challenging, and sublime. Here, he renders the end of the world as a dissolution of marriage and a series of family crises. Harsh statement on human relations? Almost certainly.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (11/18)

Thomas Alfredson's follow-up to his breakout masterwork "Let the Right One In" will test whether he really has the talent everyone thinks he does. But if the stark trailer of John Le Carre's novel is any indication, this one will deliver the goods. With Gary Oldman heading a terrific pedigree, it could be the actor's best chance for a long-sough Oscar nomination in quite some time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rise of the Convergence

There are a lot of theorists who will tell you that the face is the most emphasized part of cinema. "The Close-Up" certainly meant a great deal to D.W. Griffith -- who would build entire films around one climactic close-up -- and Sergei Eisenstein -- who integrated it into a broader part of image montage. Contemporary Hollywood has only encouraged our association of cinema as a place to see spectacles of faces. Notice how most conversation scenes are shot in close or medium-close ups, rather than longer camera positions.

Devotees may remember I noted many of these aspects last December in my "Black Swan" review, where I called a lot of attention to how that film turns the close-up into a site of oppression and anxiety rather than a site of identification.  I turn to "the close-up" or "the face" again with sheer peculiarity to talk about Rupert Wyatt's "The Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Once Upon a Time in a Spaceship

In the annals of film criticism, "The Western" is that big go-to, "The American Genre" that every genre theorist and his brother refers back to. It has produced more writing about it than any other genre. Beneath it is likely the gangster genre (in the early decades of film theory) and sci-fi (in more recent decades).

So, of course, when I hear a title like "Cowboys and Aliens," I think: "Well, I'm a genre theorist. I know something about how different theories of genre apply to the Western and the alien invasion film. This will certainly be an INTERESTING film, maybe even FUN."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Notes on a Franchise

My total indifference to "Harry Potter" over the last decade hasn't been a fact that I've tried to hide. This isn't so much because I don't like the texts -- I read the first four books, saw the first four movies, and shrugged them off to my pop culture periphery -- but rather because the rampant, aggressive fan discourse SURROUNDING "Harry Potter" tends to drive me, well, insane. And trust me, I know this isn't all "Potter" fans -- I am, after all, a "Gleek," and constantly plagued by how obnoxious fans of that show are.

But with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" already the third-highest grossing movie of all time worldwide, I figured it was time to give it its dues. So over the last three weeks or so, I have watched all eight of the movies.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

America, F&%k yeah

There have been a lot of superhero movies this summer, but for some reason they all seem to take place somewhere else than the present. "Thor" and "Green Lantern" split duties between modern society and other worlds/dimensions, and "X-men" and "Captain America" are period pieces. For my money, I think the reason those first two films were under-received is because they were too divorced from socio-cultural space.

On exactly the opposite notion, I think "X-men" particularly and "Captain" to a degree are great entries to the genre in that they push an examination of the superhero back into different periods of history. This suggests most evidently that society's desire to utilize some kind of "super" element is not a new phenomenon, but can be traced in discussions of violence and power throughout at least the last century.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

'The Tree of Life'

In a rather wonderful essay featured in the Criterion version of "The Thin Red Line," David Sterritt writes of Terrence Malick: "His great creative passions -- nuances of light, subtleties of camera movement, rapport between word and picture -- all reflect his conviction that cinematic reality is reality, and that film, treated with due reverence and expertise, is able to absorb not just patterns of luminosity but also the transcendent essence of people, places, and things."

I wouldn't dare try to say it better myself.

'Midnight in Paris' is one smooth cocktail

The opening moments of Woody Allen's latest, "Midnight in Paris," are in many ways reminiscent of those of his 1979 "Manhattan." Shots of Paris, expertly framed by Daruis Khondji (who worked with David Fincher on "Seven" and "Panic Room"), alternate striking views of familiar landmarks with equally gorgeous compositions of shops and side streets. Set to a soft jazz and building through a morning, an afternoon rainstorm, and an evening, this introduction plays far more like a city symphony from the 1920s (like say, "Rain," or "Berlin: Symphony of a City") than it does the familiar, swooping establishing shots that litter almost every film set in a major city.

This set-up accomplishes two things: It alerts us that "Midnight in Paris" is (again, like the aforementioned "Manhattan," with which the film has many similarities) a poem to Paris itself, in love with the architecture and the layout of the city and burning to explore all of its secrets. It's also a little jab that this movie is all about 1920s culture, and the first of many little "in-jokes" for those who love the culture of Luis Bunuel, the Fitzgeralds, and Cole Porter.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Spielberg Zombie of 'Super 8'

"Super 8" is being billed as J.J. Abrams' "coming out party." I know, it's kind of weird, especially since the guy's been a veritable force of nature on television, co-creating "Alias" and "Lost," and already slung his name into the director's chair on 2006's "Mission: Impossible III" and 2009's "Star Trek." But this is his first time working with a non-property project. "Super 8" is entirely his own, his chance to show Hollywood and its ticket buyers what we have to look forward to from the mind of Mr. Abrams.

And he decided it would be best to do an homage to Steven Spielberg.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fading spectacles in the Coens' West

Last December, I failed to write a full review of "True Grit." Part of this was because I found it the most peculiar and yet most straightforward movie the Coens have made in quite some time. I didn't write anything because it was so NOT what I was expecting. Having watched it again on DVD this week, I see it for the big, grand filmmaking it is. It is both so UN-Coen and yet so fully Coen, the most mainstream film they've done in years but somehow still very quirky and nuanced.

Think about it though: Their last three films meditated heavily on the inability to achieve resolution. "No Country for Old Men" broke apart the Western's model of justice-driven violence and resolution, "Burn After Reading" turned the spy drama into a glass house and then giddily threw rocks at it, and "A Serious Man"...well, "A Serious Man" is a film with such a lack of hope I can't even string together a few paltry adjectives to properly describe it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fincher's Panopticon

I can't promise how coherent or well-formed this post is going to be. I mostly just wanted to share a couple thoughts I had while watching "Panic Room" for the first time in a looong time.

"Panic Room" gets a bad rap, along with "The Game," as kind of on the bottom rung of Fincher's ouevre (discounting "Alien3." We all know why), because the screenplays are pretty, well, mainstream. David Koepp ("Room's" writer) is about as Hollywood as they come, and were you to just READ "Panic Room," I don't think it's actually a very compelling read. It's littered with devices -- Meg hates small spaces and gets trapped in a Panic Room, Sarah has diabetes and gets trapped in a Panic Room with no sugar, the thieves bring along a wild card who deviates from the plan, etc. etc. etc.

Where the film excels is its visuals. Part of this is because I think Fincher used "Panic Room," like all of his films, as an experiment. This one's an experiment in space. His camera careens in and out of rooms, up and down floors, inside vents, through keyholes, windows, beams, walls -- it's a pretty intoxicating blend of tracking shots and visual effects.

But the Panic Room, that titular plot device where the protagonists hide and the antagonists want to break into, is actually a reincarnation (albeit modified) of Bentham's Panopticon, the prison device that Michel Foucault has written extensively about. The Panopticon is a circular-ish prison with a guard tower in the center. The guard tower and cells are such that the guard can see into any cell at any given time, but the prisoners cannot see the guard. The idea is that the THREAT of being watched at all times is enough to dissuade criminal activity and teach discipline.

"Panic Room" is all about putting these power models on display and subverting them over and over. Meg sits in a Panic Room, the guard tower, with monitors showing every corner of the house. She has the power of sight over the thieves. After a while though, they start to exploit the blind spots, hiding in corners and organizing schemes to break in to the room. Audio becomes another key -- Meg has a PA system to talk to them selectively, but they have no way of communicating with her via sound. They occasionally make hand gestures or write on pieces of paper to send a message, but Meg ultimately has the power because she is in the tower.

But as I said earlier, the tower is also limited, because Meg is trapped there. She can't leave, or she'll be shot. She doesn't have enough food, she has no way to communicate with anyone outside the house. Eventually, the tables turn and the thieves get into the Room while Meg is outside. She destroys the cameras, undoing their sight and subverting the power of the panic room.

While "Panic Room" opens with a Panopticon-ish structure, Fincher's visuals want to complicate the idea that the panic room works. It can't sustain either party as a power position, and the people outside it can learn to adapt and exploit the room to try and force the others out of the room.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ideologies on Parade - "X-men: First Class" Review

"Peace was never an option."

When Matthew Vaugn was announced as the director for Marvel's "X-men: First Class" prequel/reboot, my eyebrows were more than raised. This is, after all, the guy who directed "Kick-Ass," one of the most subversive and off-the-wall violent (not to mention one of the absolute best) superhero movies to come out of the post-9/11 surge. How could this guy, whose last film questioned the whole sanitization of the Hollywood superhero, turn around and become absorbed into the very franchise mindset he was supposedly critiquing just last year?

It seems that no matter what *kind* of superhero film he's doing, Matthew Vaugn simply *gets* something about "the superhero genre" that I daresay only Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan have gotten (except for maybe James Gunn, whose radical "Super" smartly tries to blow the whole genre to pieces). "X-men: First Class" is a shining example of what the genre should be doing, where its next step could be, and how great filmmakers are capably interrogating our continuing desire to integrate superheroes deeper and deeper into the fabric of American history.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Two by Oliver Stone: 'Platoon' and 'Born on the Fourth of July'

In an effort to reinvigorate my much-backseated blogging, a retrospective on two important Vietnam movies. Sort of coinciding with Memorial Day.

Oliver Stone's sophomore effort, "Platoon," came out on Christmas 1986 and went on to earn Stone a Best Director Oscar, while the film won Best Picture. It came out on the heels of his first directorial feature, "Salvador" (also 1986), and, along with his writing credits "Midnight Express" and "Scarface," cemented him as Hollywood's next big player. "Platoon," along with "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989), presented him as an artist intimately concerned with and troubled by the Vietnam War. This extends not only to what it was like to fight it, but what its long-term effects are for our political and cultural societies.

When you look at his later films -- "JFK" (1991) and "Nixon" (1995) in particular -- they are often very concerned with how Vietnam happened and why it happened. But before he turned outward to the political side of it, he turned inward to look at the emotional side of it. His two "combat features" are essentially morality plays about the loss of innocence. Indeed, Vietnam becomes the site where America itself loses its innocence and its sense of dominance. It becomes a site where pride and physicality is actively questioned. What we see in "Platoon" is an archetypal good-and-evil set up where Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger play two surrogate fathers to Charlie Sheen's Private Taylor; the former is the "beneficial" guiding father, and the latter is the violent, corrupt father. One is a gentler masculinity of nurturing and logic, the other a hardened masculinity of aggression and revenge.

The film charts Sheen's moral decline, first painting him as a volunteer who thinks he can do good in the war, and then gradually detailing his revelation that no good can come of this war before he himself succumbs to its violent impulses and its unregulated morality. "Platoon" is remarkable for its realistically-staged combat, where the camera sits secure and the editing is very pronounced. There are little of Stone's eccentricities; it's an almost cold direction, where the faces of the platoon members offer little in the way of comfort.

"Born on the Fourth of July," on the other hand, is more of an overt memorial. Tom Cruise's soldier also believes being a marine will let him do great service for his country, until he accidentally kills a fellow soldier and loses the use of both of his legs. While he believes he will become a hardened male akin to what his parents want him to be, war actually castrates him; he loses his ability to "be a man." The film is shot in many warm, orange palettes and more extreme angles shot from below, emphasizing the stature of various figures as Cruise's paraplegic is looked down on and visually diminished as the film goes on. While "Fourth" is also about a loss of innocence, it is much more physical than spiritual.

Oliver Stone was a Vietnam veteran himself before turning to Hollywood. We can see in "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth" a desire to excise what he had seen. In that regard, you can consider them semi-autobiographical if not semi-journalistic. Even "Born" seems autobiographical in its construction of how war mutilates innocence, even if Stone is here choosing a physical rather than mental representation of that mutilation (he himself is not a paraplegic, but it's not hard to imagine him standing in for much of the critical discourse the film mounts).

These films actually undo some of the conventions of combat films. If we imagine going to war as "making a man out of you," "Born on the Fourth of July" is actually about unbecoming a man and needing to find an alternative for socially constructed forms of masculinity. His castration and loss of ability to perform sexually shows him go from a boy to a man and back to this childlike male who must grow again into a "new male" marked by his wounds.

"Platoon" works similarly - we imagine platoon movies to show the fellowship and coming together of disparate men into a singular, working ideology. The film stripes any semblance of community. Despite a scene early on where the men share pot and get high together, they never act like friends. By the end of the film, almost all of them are dead, they're divided based on the ideologies and philosophies of the various commanders, and most of the commanding officers are also dead. We expect Taylor to be integrated, but the end of the film leaves us with him as an unintegrated man. He is alone, as he was in the beginning, and also devastated by the violence around him.

If World War II narrative traditions create a fantasy of what combat does to create communities of men, Stone's two films unmake that fantasy.

The fact that most of his films are set in the 1960s and early 1970s mark him as a filmmaker absorbed by the trauma of the Vietnam War, extending into the paranoid discourses of conspiracy in "JFK" and "Nixon." They represent a man trying to grasp sense at what he conceives as the senseless.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Bridesmaid on the verge of a nervous breakdown

The House of Apatow has received a volley of complaints over the years about its insistence on churning out films with a squarely male perspective. Katherine Heigl notoriously called "Knocked Up" a sexist film, months after she agreed to star in it and received great notices from critics. And while producer king Judd Apatow neither directed nor wrote "Bridesmaids," it's easily the most feminine film to come out of his production house. It also happens to be the most idiosyncratically satisfying in years.

Watching "Bridesmaids" is like watching a full-on revolt against the chauvinism of modern "bromance" comedy and against the idea that wedding movies have to layer on the sap higher than a tiered wedding cake. In its place, co-writer and star Kristen Wiig has used the film as a platform to show she's not just one of the best sketch comedians working today, she's used a wedding movie to create a bold, raunchy, and unflinchingly honest character study. Co-writing with Annie Mumolo, the script is very obviously indebted to sketch comedy, with many scenes structured like individual sketches. Yet Wiig, clearly writing for herself, gives her character the kind of shape and nuance you rarely see female leads given (especially in a comedy).

As Annie Walker, contracted as maid of honor to her best friend Lillian's (Maya Rudolph) wedding, Wiig is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown: her cake shop has gone out of business, she's unpleasantly single and taking solace in a "sex buddy" (Jon Hamm, working with his conniving sexuality from "Mad Men" to produce a comically despicable male), and she can't seem to plan anything correctly for the wedding party. It's to Wiig's credit that she doesn't devolve into hysterics - when she does, she lets her physicality keep within the center of her frame, always playing herself as a woman fighting for her own smile.

It's this quality that makes "Bridesmaids" a truly deceptive film. On the surface, it's a brutal raunchfest full of nasty dialogue, gross gags, and free form conversations where the leads more than gleefully bounce one-liners off each other. Below that, though, lurks an intense commentary on female desire and the various shapes it takes. Annie is awash in a world of unflattering masculinity, a defeated sense of personal accomplishment, and a disconnect to her best friend. As in many Apatow-produced comedies, it's really a story of personal growth and redemption masked behind a cavalcade of well-delivered sex jokes.

Director Paul Feig, best known for his time directing many "Office" episodes, is a good fit for the ensemble, and for teasing out the many subtleties the females try to cram in. But what I think is most admirable about the film, and what makes it a true rarity, is that it doesn't attack or victimize anyone. Every character is flawed, they all have problems, but it doesn't treat men like naive imbeciles (devotees will remember my notorious rant against "The Hangover" for the way it demonized the women characters). Jon Hamm's character is a "toxic masculinity," but his is only a form of masculinity - there are plenty of others to counterbalance him, just as there are many different kinds of femininity (and some that are very unattractive and superficial).

For that, "Bridesmaids" is a refreshing and invigorating little comedy. Oh yeah, and it's darn hilarious.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" Red-band trailer

David Fincher's "Dragon Tattoo" adaptation is leaked in a shaky, tilted camcorder rip that almost makes this demented trailer even better. As much as I really liked the Swedish version of the film, this one looks darker and more visceral. Get ready to salivate:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Terrence Malick wins Palme d'Or

The Cannes Film Festival wrapped Sunday night with their annual awards ceremony. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life was awarded the coveted Palme d'Or, marking the first time since 2004 the United States has claimed the prize.

Malick's film, set to bow this weekend in limited release, had some of the most intense reactions at Cannes. Reports from the first screening of the film noted that a small sect of viewers burst into "boos" as soon as the "Directed by" title came up at the closing credits, but was momentarily drowned out by a burst of applause. The idea here that many bloggers played up was that Life is a film that needs to be thought about before issuing a rash judgment - the boos came from people who didn't want to think, the late applause from people who were taking a second to let it all sink in.

Indeed, several critics who took to Twitter immediately after the screening derided the film, but as last Monday wore on more and more people started calling The Tree of Life a beautiful and demanding art film. Malick was set to premiere the film at last year's Cannes Film Festival, but asked to be moved to this year's festival to give him one more year to work in the editing room.

Robert de Niro headed this year's jury.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finality and 'The Office'

"Sometimes goodbyes are a bitch." - Jim Halpert

"He wasn't sad. He was full of hope." - Pam Beasley

There's something so definitive about a goodbye.

I'm not gonna sit here and pretend like last week's episode of The Office didn't mean a great deal to me. It meant more to me than any other episode of the show, and maybe more than any television episode in quite some time. This isn't a review, or a commentary. This is simply me opening up, and trying to get something complicated down in words.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

'Super' pushes past the point of no return

"I can't know, but I have to try." -- The Crimson Bolt (Rainn Wilson)

As I often do before I start to write a review, I glanced over the Metacritic blurbs for James Gunn's Super, about a lowly diner cook who decides to become a crime fighter to save his wife from an "evil" drug dealer. I realized, much to my dismay, that a lot of the critics either missed the point of Mr. Gunn's film entirely, or refused to acknowledge how or why it was doing exactly what it was doing.

So let's set the record straight: Super may be a bloody, almost grindhouse film, but it takes the idea of a "superhero" to such a dizzying high and with such complex morality that to call it anything less than a true stunner would do great disservice to its remarkably thought-provoking look at violence, humanity, and the limits of legal action.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Netflix turns up heat

From the Hollywood Reporter:

In a note to shareholders Monday that accompanied its first-quarter earnings report, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells wrote that the House of Cards decision “was driven by a desire to test a new licensing model using a small portion of our content budget.”
“We want to confirm our theory that because we are click-and-watch rather than appointment viewing, we can efficiently build a big audience for a well-produced serialized show,” they say in the letter. “We’ll license two or three similar, but smaller, deals so we can gain confidence that whatever results we achieve are repeatable.”
House of Cards, produced by Media Rights Capital, will star Kevin Spacey and some episodes are expected to be directed by David Fincher. Instead of airing on TV, Netflix has commissioned 26 episodes and will stream them to its customers beginning in 2012 at an estimated cost of $100 million.
Netflix added 3.3 million domestic subscribers during the quarter, giving it 22.8 million in the U.S., enough to tie it with Comcast as the biggest media-subscription business in the country. Sirius XM Radio boasts 20.2 million and Microsoft’s Xbox Live has 30 million, though the company hasn’t said how many are free and how many are paid.

To read my thoughts on the House of Cards deal from when it was announced, head here. As a Netflix devotee, I'm hyped to see them making this move.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On watching Jesus: Appreciating 'Last Temptation'

"Easter films" don't have quite the categorical recognition and distinction as, say, Christmas films. Part of this is undoubtedly from how "Christmas" has a very bizarre secular manifestation in contemporary culture (it is, after all, a pretty capitalist holiday: why not make capitalist products to promote it?). But there is very much a vested concern with portraying Jesus's crucifixion and, in some texts, resurrection on film. This is a historical issue as much as a contemporary one, as Passion Plays are not anything new.

But today, I found myself compelled to watch Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ for the second time. I first saw it in 2008 and had kind of a revelatory reaction. I watched it late at night, in the dark, consumed by the very lyrical work Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus applied to Christ, along with Paul Schrader's incredibly complex adaptation of a pretty controversial (which seems like putting it lightly) book.

I think Scorsese's film has been horrifically misread. I don't think it's just a beautiful film, replete with the kind of eye-catching editing, atypical fusion of music and sequence and striking compositions that have made him one of America's best filmmakers. It takes the kind of psychological qualities he gives all his character studies and daringly applies them to Jesus Christ.  It's brilliant and stirring in a way quite unlike any other spiritual film I've ever seen. So this Easter, I thought it was worth talking about.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cannes lineup finally revealed

Opening Film
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)

In Competition

The Skin That I Inhabit (Pedro Almodovar)
L'Apollonide (Betrand Bonello)
Foot Note (Joseph Cedar)
Paterre (Alain Cavalier)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
The Kid With the Bike (The Dardennes)
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki)
Hanezu no Tsuki (Naomi Kawase)
Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh)
Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
La Source de Femmes (Radu Mihaileanu)
Polisse (Maiwenn Le Besco)
Harakiri (Takashi Miike)
We Have a Pope (Nanni Moretti)
Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
Michael (Markus Schleinzer)
This Must Be the Place (Paolo Sorrentino)
Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsey)

Un Certain Regard

Restless (Gus Van Sant)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
The Hunter (Bazur Bakuradze)
Halt auf freier Strecke (Andreas Dresen)
Skoonheid (Oliver Hermanus)
Hors Satan (Bruno Dumont)
Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro (Robert Guediguian)
The Days He Arrives (Hong Sang-Soo)
Bonsai (Christian Jimenez)
Tatsumi (Erik Khoo)
En maintenant, on va ou? (Nadine Labaki)
Ariang (Kim Ki Duk)
Loverboy (Catalin Mitulescu)
Toomelah (Ivan Sen)
Yellow Sea (Na Hong-Jin)
Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo)
L'exercice de l'Etat (Pierre Schoeller)
Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)
Travailler fatigue (Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra)

Out of Competition

The Beaver (Jodie Foster)
The Artist (Michel Hazanvicius)
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall)
La Conquete (Xavier Durringer)
Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom (Jennifer Yuh)

Special Screenings

Labrador (Frederikke Aspock)
Le maitre des foreges de l'enfer (Rithy Panh)
Un documentaire sur Michel Petrucciani (Michael Radford)
Tous au Larzac (Christian Rouaud)

Midnight Screenings

Wu Xia (Peter Chan Ho-sun)
Dias de gracia (Everardo Gout)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wait, did you not realize it's awards weekend blow-out

When I manage two blogs, I forget about the other one. It's how I hope to parent one day.

If you missed last night's feeble coverage of a less-than-interesting Critics Choice awards, don't worry! I've got more up my sleeve for tomorrow's Golden Globes.

But you can only find it if you go to Statue Tracker.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Eighth Annual Jagged Edge Awards

It's that time of the year where I let my voice be heard across all the categories, where you can finally figure out which actors, screenplays and cinematographers I loved the most. 25 of the roughly 50 films I saw in 2010 are represented.

It's time to know which films from this year I consider... Filmmaking Excellence Above the Cut

Best Picture

Black Swan
Shutter Island
The Social Network

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
David Fincher for The Social Network
Christopher Nolan for Inception
Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer
Martin Scorsese for Shutter Island

This is Darren Aronofsky's second nomination; he was nominated in 2008 for The Wrestler
This is David Fincher's second nomination; he was nominated in 2007 for Zodiac
This is Christopher Nolan's second nomination for Best Director; he won this category in 2008 for The Dark Knight. He is additionally nominated this year for Best Original Screenplay, and has twice been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (The Dark Knight in 2008 [which he won] and The Prestige in 2006)
This is Martin Scorsese's second nomination. He won this category in 2006 for The Departed
This is Roman Polanski's first nomination.

Best Actor

Jim Carrey for I Love You, Phillip Morris
Leonardo DiCaprio for Shutter Island
Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network
Colin Firth for The King's Speech
Joaquin Phoenix for I'm Still Here

This is Jim Carrey's second nomination. He won this category in 2004 for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
This is Leonardo DiCaprio's third nomination. He was nominated in 2004 for The Aviator and in 2006 for The Departed.
This is Jesse Eisenberg's second nomination. He won Best Supporting Actor in 2005 for The Squid and the Whale.
This is Joaquin Phoenix's second nomination. He was nominated for Walk the Line in 2005.
This is Colin Firth's first nomination.   

Best Actress

Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence for Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Noomi Rapace for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Tilda Swinton for I Am Love

This is Nicole Kidman's second nomination. She was nominated in 2003 for Dogville.
This is Natalie Portman's second nomination. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for Closer.
This is Tilda Swinton's second nomination. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for Michael Clayton.
This is Jennifer Lawrence's and Noomi Rapace's first nomination.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale for The Fighter
Nicolas Cage for Kick-Ass
Andrew Garfield for The Social Network
John Hawkes for Winter's Bone
Sean Penn for Fair Game
This is Nicolas Cage's second nomination. He was nominated last year for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
This is Sean Penn's third nomination. He won Best Actor in 2003 for Mystic River and was nominated in 2008 for Milk.
This is Christian Bale's, Andrew Garfield's and John Hawkes's first nomination.

Best Supporting Actress

Marion Cotillard for Inception
Dale Dickey for Winter's Bone
Rooney Mara for The Social Network
Chloe Grace Moretz for Kick-Ass
Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit

This is the first nomination for all nominees.

Best Original Screenplay

Black Swan by Mark Hyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin 
The Fighter by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson
Greenberg by Noah Baumbach
Dogtooth by Efthymis Filppou and Giorgos Lanthimos
Inception by Christopher Nolan

This is Noah Baumbach's fourth nomination. He was nominated for writing and directing The Squid and the Whale in 2005, and for co-writing the adaption of Fantastic Mr. Fox last year.
This is Christopher Nolan's fifth nomination. He is nominated for Best Director this year, won Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay in 2008 for The Dark Knight, and was nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay in 2006 for The Prestige.
This is the first nomination for all over nominees.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Ghost Writer
Screenplay by Robert Harris and Roman Polanski
Based on the Book "The Ghost" by Robert Harris

Screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaugn
Based on the Comic Book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

The Social Network
Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
Based on the Book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrin

Shutter Island
Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis
Based on the Book by Dennis Lehane

True Grit
Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen
Based on the Book by Charles Portis  

This is Roman Polanski's second nomination; he is also nominated this year for Best Director.
This is the Coens' sixth nomination. They won Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay in 2007 for No Country for Old Men, were nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 2008 for Burn After Reading and in 2009 for A Serious Man, as well as a Best Director nomination in 2009 for A Serious Man.

Best Cast Ensemble

The Fighter
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The Social Network
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Best Art Direction

Alice in Wonderland
The King’s Speech
Shutter Island
True Grit

Best Cinematography

The American
Black Swan
The Social Network
True Grit

Best Film Editing

Black Swan
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Shutter Island
True Grit

Best Msic

Black Swan
The Ghost Writer
Shutter Island
The Social Network

Best Sound

Black Swan
Iron Man 2
Toy Story 3
True Grit

Best Visual Effects

Black Swan
Iron Man 2
Knight and Day
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Best Makeup

The Fighter
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Let Me In
True Grit

Scene of the Year

The American – Opening scene
Black Swan – Night out with Lilly
Dogtooth – Oral surgery
The Ghost Writer – Coda/Book premiere
Inception – First dream heist
Kick-Ass – Saving Big Daddy
The King's Speech - The Speech
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Scott vs. Gideon
The Social Network – “You have my attention”
Toy Story 3 - One last play

Nominations Total

Inception - 11
The Social Network - 10
Black Swan - 10
True Grit - 8
Shutter Island - 7
Kick-Ass - 6
The Fighter - 4
The Ghost Writer - 4
Winter's Bone - 4
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - 4
The King's Speech - 3
Dogtooth - 2
The American - 2
Iron Man 2 - 2
Toy Story 3 - 2
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - 2
I Am Love - 1
Alice in Wonderland - 1
Rabbit Hole - 1
Fair Game - 1
Greenberg - 1
I Love You, Phillip Morris - 1
I'm Still Here - 1
Knight and Day  - 1
Let Me In - 1

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top 20 Films of 2010

Oh yes, that wonderful time of year, where we can list off our top choices for the year.

In lieu of 10, I opted for 20 this year, just because I liked that many movies.

1. The Social Network
2. Black Swan
3. Inception
4. Kick-Ass
5. Shutter Island
6. The Ghost Writer
7. Winter's Bone
8. True Grit
9. Dogtooth
10. Somewhere
11. The Fighter
12. I'm Still Here
13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
14. The King's Speech
15. Toy Story 3
16. Rabbit Hole
17. Mother
18. Exit Through the Gift Shop
19. I Am Love
20. The American